The Drowned and the Saved

April 19, 2024

The Drowned and the Saved



I've just finished reading Primo Levi's last book, The Drowned and the Saved (1986), which served as a summation of his experience at Auschwitz and grapples with the complications in the transmission of the lessons of the Holocaust as the events themselves recede in living memory.

Quick aside: had a personal copy of the book, traveled to Tulsa for a cousin's wedding and left it in the sheets of an unmade hotel room bed. The event was a blessing as it freed me from the interminable notations scribbled in the margins by the previous owner.

Next to a paragraph on the culpability of the average German, aware of the intense political subjugation and persecution of the Jews, the commentary in faded pencil:

"They knew."

On the transmutation of memory by the guilty perpetrators:

An extreme case of the distortion of the memory of a committed guilty act is found in it's suppression... it is a fossilized lie, rigidified in a formula. The rememberer has decided not to remember and has succeeded: by dint of denying its existence, he has expelled the harmful memory as one expels an excretion of a parasite (Chp. 1, "The Memory of the Offense")

The sterling observation, underlined (?!):


The perils of buying used books.

Anyway, wanted to highlight a couple contemporarily relevant passages from the final chapter "Letters from Germans":

I repeat: the true crime, the collective, general crime of almost all Germans of that time was that of lacking the courage to speak.

On Israel:

Desperate, the Jewish survivors in flight from Europe after the great shipwreck have created in the bosom of the Arab world an island of Western civilization, a portentous palingenesis of Judaism, and the pretext for renewed hatred.

On the so-called "Long Peace" (emphasis mine):

There are no problems that cannot be solved around a table, provided there is good will and reciprocal trust - or even reciprocal fear, as the present interminable stalled situation in which the greatest powers confront each other with cordial or threatening faces but have no restraint when it comes to unleashing (or allowing the unleashing) of bloody wars among those "protected" by them, supplying sophisticated weapons, spies, mercenaries, and military advisors instead of arbiters of peace.

A screenshot from The Guardian in April 2024 detailing that the U.S. provides an estimated 68% of Israel's foreign-sourced weapons while Germany is the second-largest at 30%

Pic unrelated.